Yesterday’s big front office drama in Atlanta will have far-reaching implications, and I’m guessing that much of the baseball world is on edge thinking about what the fallout might be.
In case you missed the initial news, a couple members of the Braves’ front office, including GM John Coppolella abruptly resigned in the face of an MLB investigation into, among other things, signing practices in international free agency. From the early, sparse reports, it sounded pretty bad.
Passan’s report details allegations about bundling of IFA signings in order to circumvent rules, tampering with free agents, pre-draft agreements, under-the-table benefits to draft picks, and more. Moreover, it sounds like the Braves’ front office as a whole is in a bit of disarray.
Rosenthal reports that one of the violations being investigated by MLB was an apparent verbal agreement between the Braves and a 14-year-old prospect in the Dominican Republic. Players are not eligible to sign until they turn 16. The big whammy in Rosenthal’s report is this one: “Other teams also are under investigation for their conduct in the international market, sources said. The international scouting director of one club said as many as 15 teams allegedly have reached verbal agreements with players who are not eligible to sign until 2019, when they turn 16.”
The Cubs are in the IFA penalty box right now, and have been since a couple signing periods ago, but if the investigation looks into teams agreeing to deals in advance of future signing periods, it’s conceivable that the Cubs could be one of those 15 teams, given their aggressiveness in the international market. (I will point out though, as a for-what-it’s-worth, the early reports this year of “such-and-such top 2018 player has been strongly linked to this team” have not included the Cubs yet.)
This, from Passan, is extremely interesting:
Sources: MLB is investigating Atlanta's signing of top prospect Kevin Maitan. If improprieties are found, he could be declared a free agent.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) October 2, 2017
Maitan, a 17-year-old switch-hitting shortstop, is one of the top international free agents in a while, and if he were dropped into the free agent market untethered from IFA rules (if that’s what happened), there would be a frenzy to sign him.
Of course, the irony is that, if MLB makes Maitan a true free agent and he signs for $20 million or whatever, they’ll only be underscoring the very flaws in the system that pushed teams like the Braves to behave the way they did.
Circling back to the possible investigation into many teams for agreeing to sign players before they turned 16, I wonder how wide-reaching this will go. The way this has played out, and with the way the international market and its signing limitations have pushed teams to try to get agreements sooner and sooner, I can’t help but wonder if there was an unspoken gentleman’s agreement about this stuff among teams … but they felt the Braves went too far.
Because that’s the thing: if one team pulls the trigger on pushing MLB to crack down on early agreements, then the whole structure of early agreements could come crumbling down, to the detriment of more than half the teams in baseball. So, then, whatever the Braves were doing was probably pretty bad. And now it might impact a lot of teams.
Setting aside consequences for whatever teams get caught up in this (consequences that, like with the Braves, could involve losing players who were signed, and/or losing future IFA pool money), I bet the big fallout here is going to be an even stronger push from MLB for an international draft. If there isn’t an international draft within the next four years, I’d be shocked.
In the meantime, we’ll await more fallout from MLB’s investigation – which comes against the backdrop of THE most heralded IFA prospect, Shohei Otani, possibly coming to the States this fall, and teams likely wanting to get a long-term extension in place as soon as possible – and we’ll follow what punishments befall the Braves.